God’s vocation will bring happiness

If you really want to be satisfied in life, ask God, “What are you calling me to do?”

We often talk about “vocations” in the Catholic Church, so this week I would like to spend time explaining what they are and why they are so important.

The word “vocation” comes from the Latin word vocatio, which means “summons.” This past weekend I had the joy of ordaining four men who heard God summoning them to the priesthood when they prayerfully listened for his call in their hearts. My own heart was flooded with the joy of Jesus Christ to see men respond to the call to give up everything and follow him, to serve the faithful of northern Colorado.

Every one of us has a primary vocation that defines our state in life. Some people are called to marriage, some men are chosen for holy orders, and some people are chosen for religious life or the single life. The Father has a definite vocation and particular plan for every human being that brings happiness and fulfillment. Every human being, whether they are aware of it or not, is made for God.

Father Joseph Doman, one of the four men I ordained a priest this past Saturday, described his decision to answer God’s call as “freeing.” There is “a tremendous freedom and joy that comes from giving your life away irrevocably, from not having any more options,” he said.

“Giving your life away irrevocably seems to be the opposite of freedom: being chained to one something until death. But the reality is that this gift of self is the fulfillment of freedom. I’ve never felt more free in my life.”
It is beautiful to see how people flourish when they respond to God’s call with generosity!

In his message for this year’s World Day of Prayer for Vocations, Pope Francis invites all of us “to listen to the voice of Christ that rings out in the Church and to understand what their own vocation is.” We are made to give ourselves totally to God, and if we listen for his voice in the quiet of our hearts he shows us how we will find the greatest fulfillment.

Over the last several months I have also celebrated the weddings of friends who have heard God inviting them to marriage. As a bishop, one of the things that brings me great joy is to celebrate the weddings of couples who are drawn to marriage not just because they love their future spouse but because they are also eager to respond to God’s call.

A question I always ask a couple prior to their marriage is, “Is it the Father’s will that you marry Tom or Ann?” It is a question that sometimes catches people off-guard, yet it is an essential question for a person of faith, for it reveals the Father’s providential love in bringing a man and woman together in his divine plan for their life, just as he brought Adam and Eve together, and Mary and Joseph together.

If I only spoke of the joys of living out God’s vocation, though, I would not be telling the whole story. The kind of love that following Christ requires, no matter your vocation, is sacrificial. Every state of life follows the way of the Cross and Resurrection. There will be times of trial and tribulation and there will be times of great joy just as there was in Jesus’ life. One has only to look at the lives of the saints to see the truth in the sacrificial nature of love.

Many people experience a “honeymoon period” when they first resolve to answer the Lord’s call, but he loves us too much not to purify us further through life’s trials. That is why St. James says, “My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing” (1: 2-4). Through your vocation, God is preparing you for eternal life.

It is also important to recognize that how we live our vocations impacts the future. Vocations do not come from out of nowhere. They are like seeds that are planted in our hearts by God, and they grow as they are nurtured in our families.

What a blessing it is to hear how a priest acquired the virtues that make him a good priest from his father, or how a newly married woman was inspired by the heroic sacrifices of her own mother! Last year I received the vows of some Sisters for Life and I was able to see how these women were inspired to follow the path of consecrated life by the experience of the community and its unique charism. I will never forget the faces of those sisters. Their joy was palpable as they came forward to become brides of Christ and surrender their lives in service.

We have just celebrated the ordination of four new priests and the wedding season is upon us. I pray that as people around the archdiocese consider their future, they will prayerfully seek God’s plan. Do not be afraid to ask a holy priest, sister, consecrated lay person or married couple for their guidance. Ask the Holy Spirit, “What is the Father’s plan for my life?”

“Be not afraid!” I assure you that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit desire your happiness, and if you trust in God and make your life a total self-gift to him, you will not be disappointed.

COMING UP: Father and son, deacon and priest: Deacon dads and priest sons share special bond as both serve God’s people

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

The bond between a father and son is one of God’s greatest designs; however, when father and son are both called to serve the Church as deacon and priest, that bond takes on a whole new meaning. Just ask these two dads and their sons, all of whom answered the call to serve the people of God at the altar.

Deacon Michael Magee serves at Our Lady of Loreto Parish in Foxfield, while his son Father Matthew Magee has worked as the priest secretary to Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila for the past several years and will soon be moved to a new assignment as parochial vicar at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Boulder. Deacon Darrell Nepil serves at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Denver, and his son, Father John Nepil, served at several parishes within the archdiocese before his current assignment as a professor at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary.

However different their journeys may have been, all four have something in common; mainly, that far from seeing their vocations as a reward from God, they have received them as an uncommon gift of grace that has blessed their families and individual relationships with each other abundantly, knowing that God acts in different ways to help us all get to Heaven.

Interwoven journeys

Deacon Michael Magee was ordained in May 2009, at the end of Father Matt’s first year of seminary. Little did they know that God would use both of their callings to encourage each other along the journey.

Deacon Michael’s journey began when a man from his parish was ordained a deacon.

“I simply felt like God was calling me to do something more than I was doing at the present time,” he said. “I had been volunteering for a number of different things and was involved in some ministry activities and in the Knights of Columbus. And I thought the idea of being a deacon would be simply another activity for which I could volunteer.”

He didn’t know what it entailed at the time. In fact, he believed it was something a man could simply sign up for. To his surprise, the diaconate was more serious – and it required five years of formation and discernment. Yet he was so drawn to it, that he decided to do it anyway. But as he learned more about the nature of the diaconate during his formation, he became more nervous and unsure about whether God was really calling him to that vocation. 

While his doubts remained all the way up to his ordination, Deacon Michael was faithful to his studies, trusting that God would lead him in the right path. 

And God did — through the calling of his own son to the priesthood.

Deacon Michael didn’t realize that his son Matthew had paid close attention to his father’s faith journey and had found in it a light that gave him courage to discern the priesthood.

Father Matthew Magee (left) and his dad, Deacon Michael Magee (right), were both encouraging to one another as they each pursued their respective vocations. (Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

“Seeing my dad, as a father, growing in his relationship with the Lord was really influential for me on my own desire to follow Christ,” said Father Matt. “Looking at his courage to discern his own vocation and follow God’s plan in his life gave me the strength and courage to be open to the same thing in my life… He played a very important role, whether he knew it or not at the time, and whether I knew it or not at the time.”

On the other hand, Father Matt didn’t know that his dad was in turn encouraged by his own response to God’s calling. 

“As I went through all those doubts, I watched Matthew’s journey in seminary and listened to how he was dealing with that in his life. And, as he just articulated very well, I also saw those same qualities in him,” Deacon Michael said. “Seeing a young man in his 20s willing to consider following God for the rest of his life also gave me the courage to continue on in my own journey, to see it through.”

God’s way of uplifting them in their vocations through each other’s journey is something they are very grateful for. 

This unusual grace impacted Father Matt during his first Mass, when his dad, as deacon, approached him before the Gospel reading and asked for the traditional blessing by calling him “father.”

“It was a really special moment for me. He’s certainly my biological father and raised me. But then there’s something different when we’re at the altar in a clerical capacity — there’s a strange reversal of roles when we’re giving spiritual nourishment to the people — a father asks the new father for the blessing,” he said.

In both of their vocations, Deacon Michael and Father Matt see God’s Providence and the unique plan he has for all of us.

“We all have a vocation, even if it’s something we may not expect,” Deacon Michael concluded. “You may feel anxiety or worry about what it’s going to look like, but trust in God. He will take care of things as he always does.”

A bribe for Heaven

For Deacon Darell and Father John Nepil, the journey was different, but not any less providential.

While he grew up Catholic, Father John wasn’t interested in setting foot on any Church activity during his teenage years. His saving grace was perhaps what many parents have to do to get their teenagers to Church: bribe them.

“His mom and I basically bribed him to go to the Steubenville of the Rockies Conference,” Deacon Darell said with a laugh. “He didn’t want to go, but we’d heard so many good things about it, that we said, ‘We’re going to make this happen, whatever it takes.’”

So the Nepils came up with a creative idea.

“He owed me some money for a uniform that he had needed for a job in the summer. So, I said, ‘Listen, if you go to the Steubenville of the Rockies Conference, I’ll forgive your debt. And he did, he and his brother went. And John especially came back a different boy. He literally was converted with a lightning bolt at that retreat.”

To this day, Father John marks his conversion to Christ from the summer before his senior year in high school when he attended that conference. 

As it happens with stories worth telling, the details of how much money he owed his father have varied over the years, and it’s a matter of debate among them, but Father John remembers it was close to $500.

“That’s subject to each one,” Father John said laughingly. “But what matters is that they offered to forgive my debt if I went to this retreat – it was money well spent.”

Besides this important event, Father John said that his dad influenced him in many ways by the simple fact of who he was as a father.

“My dad’s faith and moral character were a rock for me during some difficult teenage years,” he said. “He’s a great example of a man who was always faithful and lived a really outstanding moral life, but then as he deepened in love with Christ, he decided to give of himself in a more profound service.”

Father John Nepil (left) and Deacon Darrell Nepil (right) both had rather roundabout ways to their respective vocations, but they both say serving God’s people together as brothers in Holy Orders is a great joy. (Photo provided)

Besides his desire to serve and follow God, the seed that would eventually lead Deacon Darell to the diaconate was planted by a coworker, who would also take holy orders: Deacon Joe Donohoe.

“One day he said to me, ‘You should be a deacon.’ And, of course, I laughed at him and said, ‘I don’t have time for that. My life is too busy.’ But it only took him to suggest it for the idea to keep coming back to my head, and God kept nudging me. Eventually I decided I really wanted to do that,” Deacon Darell said.

The ability to share at the altar during the Mass has deepened the natural relationship of father and son and given Deacon Darell and Father John new opportunities to grow closer to God. 

One of the most meaningful times came when Deacon Darell had a massive stroke in 2018. While he was in the hospital, Father John was able to visit and celebrate Mass at his bed and pray the rosary with him every day, as he had come back from Rome and was working on his dissertation.

“It was probably the most privileged and intimate time I’ve ever had with my father,” Father John said. “It was an amazing gift that really changed our relationship.”

“I feel like that’s a huge reason why I healed and why I am here today,” Deacon Darell added.

“It’s a real gift to have my dad as a deacon and a brother. It’s a tremendous honor. It’s one of the great joys of my life.” Father John concluded. “That’s really what has bonded our relationship together: the sheer desire to serve Jesus, especially in holy orders.”